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Is This An Appropriate Use of the Confederate Flag?

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Matthew Heimbach at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

Susan Hathaway and the Virginia Flaggers are Richmond’s self-described defenders of Confederate heritage. At the center of their advocacy is the belief that the Confederate flag has been hijacked by individuals and groups who have used it for purposes other than to honor their Confederate ancestors. This belief is at the center of their ongoing protest at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and recently in front of the Museum of the Confederacy – Appomattox, owing to the latter’s failure to fly a Confederate battle flag on the walkway leading to the entrance. They would have their fellow Richmonders believe that the meaning behind the planned placement of a large Confederate flag along I-95 in late September is solely about honoring the soldier. Not so fast.

The Virginia Flaggers believe they have established for themselves a high standard for the proper use of the Confederate flag. But when it comes time to defending choices about their own use of the Confederate flag they are silent. The photograph above shows Matthew Heimbach “flagging” the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. As yesterday’s post showed, Heimbach has marched front and center with the Virginia Flaggers on at least one occasion and, last night Flagger spokesman, Tripp Lewis, claimed him as a member. Continue reading “Is This An Appropriate Use of the Confederate Flag?”

Who Are the Virginia Flaggers?

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Update: Well, you heard it here first. Tripp Lewis of the Virginia Flaggers declares that Matthew Heimbach is a “good guy.”

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The Virginia Flaggers are still intent on placing a large Confederate flag off of Interstate 95 near Richmond, Virginia by the end of September. The Richmond media has interviewed Susan Hathaway and others about their goals in placing the flag in such a prominent place and their preferred interpretation of the Confederate flag. What the major news channels have not done, however, is look into the membership of the Flaggers and whether their talk of Confederate heritage reflects the broader values of the Richmond community.

Thanks to Brooks Simpson (and here) and Andy Hall we are learning more about individual members (or individuals who are claimed as members by the Flaggers) such as Matthew Heimbach. Susan Hathaway and the rest of the Flaggers have gone on record attacking prominent members of Richmond’s history and museum community for their supposed Confederate heritage betrayals. The Virginia Flaggers should be held accountable to the very same standard. Richmonders should ask themselves whether Matthew Heimbach’s view of Confederate heritage represents their own. Continue reading “Who Are the Virginia Flaggers?”

A Forgotten Battle For the Second Amendment

Thomas NastOne of the most interesting sections of Carole Emberton’s new book, Beyond Redemption, is her analysis of the relationship between gun ownership among newly-freed slaves, voting, citizenship and violence in the postwar South. By 1860 service in the military had already expanded the suffrage to include a large percentage of white men. The right to vote, achieved through military service defined what it meant to lay claim to citizenship in the United States. The defense of home and nation not only opened the doors to voting for many white men, but the weapons used proved to be extremely useful in the often violent world of political campaigns and gatherings on election day.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the claims to citizenship and the vote by a formerly enslaved population rested directly on the right to bear arms. Former black Union soldiers often purchased their weapons upon leaving the army while many others purchased weapons with what little money they earned. They did so to protect themselves, but also as symbols of freedom and independence. The right to own a weapon constituted a tangible break with a past in which masters controlled the conditions in which their slaves could shoulder a gun. Most importantly, gun ownership was understood as a direct claim through the Second Amendment to the rights of citizenship and the vote. Continue reading “A Forgotten Battle For the Second Amendment”

A Black Confederate We Can All Live With

black ConfederateEarlier this month Schuyler Kropf shared the story of Polly Sheppard, who was surprised to find the grave of a black Confederate soldier in the cemetery of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston. The individual in question is Louis B. Middleton, whose grave is marked with a soldiers’ headstone. This has all the earmarks of another in a long line of distorted stories about blacks who somehow managed to evade Confederate law and a society committed to keeping weapons out of their hands. Continue reading “A Black Confederate We Can All Live With”

What A Real Review Looks Like

CraterThe other day I blogged briefly about a disagreement over a reference I made to a “real [book] review” as opposed to what I would call reader feedback on Amazon book pages.  Sure, there may be some dedicated Amazon reviewers out there, but I tend not to go there for substantive and thoughtful critiques. It just so happens that earlier today my publisher passed along what is clearly the most critical review of my book published to date. Thanks to Jason Phillips, who is the new Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University, for reading it and reviewing it for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Jason has a reputation for hard hitting reviews. There are aspects of his review that I agree with and a few with which I disagree, but overall I have no complaints. I certainly think that I could have done much more with the white Northern memory of the battle. I have no intention of writing a formal response here since that would be bad form. My goal is simply to highlight what I think is a pretty good example of a “real review.”

Kevin Levin has selected an excellent subject to study Civil War memory. Among other things, the battle of the Crater marked the first time that units in the Army of Northern Virginia fought (and massacred) United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.). Levin insightfully explains how the presence of black soldiers signified everything that Confederates fought for and against without excusing the atrocity. His analysis of the career of Gen. William Mahone, the Confederate hero of the Crater, may be Levin’s greatest contribution. As leader of the biracial Readjuster Party after Reconstruction, Mahone threatened white supremacy and the Lost Cause myth. Levin shows how postwar Virginians’ memories of the Crater not only pitted whites against blacks and northerners against southerners but also former Confederates against each other at a time when political divisions fractured the state. Tracing the memory of the battle into the twentieth century, Levin describes the rise of white memory and efforts, since the civil rights movement, to add a black counter- memory to scholarship and site interpretation. Public historians in particular will benefit from this book. Continue reading “What A Real Review Looks Like”